Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Robert Gordon Sproul

American Educator, President of the University of California

"Progress is always the product of fresh thinking, and much of it thinking which to practical men bears the semblance of dreaming."

"Autocracies may survive for intermittent periods with populations of "yes men," but democracies need a perennially renewed supply of "know men."

"There are still some, in these days, who believe that the decline of spiritual force in the world is the result of conflict between truth which we speak of as scientific and truth which one describes as metaphysical. This I do not believe; there can be no incommensurable conflict within the concept of truth and no real conflict among its varied aspects... What conflict there is today between science and religion is not in the intellectual realm, where once consciously we met it, but rather in the practical realm, where everyday unconsciously we confront it."

"Essentially Americanism, which in democracy, is a moraland spiritual adventure, concerned primarily with a sound and workable philosophy of life, summed up in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, respect for human personality, and recognition of the dignity and value of the individual. In his brilliant statement on The Coming Victory of Democracy, Thomas Mann tells us he believes in democracy because he believes in freedom, and he believes in freedom because he believes in human nature and the dignity of man, who is more than a depersonalized unit in the state. Man is a spiritual being whom it is the duty of the state to serve. He is more than a slave to be kept in order and submission by the crack of a master's whip. "The essential man," says he, "is not the creature who hurls down bombs on children, but the mind that devised the flying machine, the seeker and builder, not the destroyer.""

"Religious liberty is the primary source of our civil liberties, and of all our freedom—free speech, free press and radio, freedom of assembly, and the right of petition. When we explore the history of our institutions we come very soon to the matter of religious belief."

"But it is not with interesting and glorious history or manifold and notable present accomplishment that we must concern ourselves. The United States is a nation not of ancestors but of descendants. As true Americans we dream of the future of our children rather than of the past of our forefathers, eminent though these may have been. We regard ourselves still as the founders rather than as the descendants of families. We are interested not so much in what our institutions have been as in what they shall be. "

"The educational activities of a university must be examined in the light of their directive concepts. University education, even today, is influenced by the tradition of the middle ages, by the idea of academic discipline and of authoritative instruction. That tradition met with difficulties in the nineteenth century under the impact of the natural and social sciences, and in the twentieth century it is facing the problem of marked increase in the number of subjects to be investigated and taught, and in a consequent questionable specialization of instruction. The difficulties arising from these impacts have resulted in various systems of electives, of majors and minors, and in suggestions for improving instruction, such as granting privileges to superior students. But these difficulties of the present situation in American education have not, as yet, provoked what is most urgently needed--a careful, scientific study of the whole problem, the prosecution of inquiries which will lead to new knowledge in the field of university education."

"That university man is rare indeed who would claim that the present system of higher education is adequate; yet we adhere to it because it is easier than to make a radical change. The lockstep is hard to break. The faculty develops younger men to follow in its footsteps, selecting teachers on the basis of their conformance to the tradition of the men who trained them. Generation after generation recites the same rigamarole, and all too seldom do the augurs glance at one another and solemnly wink. The curious thing is that the men who, in educational systems accept what has been done traditionally, in their own fields recognize that science is changing constantly, and they are always experimenting in the hope that they may contribute to the changes. Why should we not look on education as a problem for experimentation just as we so look on a problem in physics or astronomy? Why, when we recognize the importance of theories and experimentation in every other field, should we accept, with such complaisance, our present system of education? The reason is that most of us either give no thought to the theory underlying the system of education we support, or think of education as an exception to the rule that every subject must rest on some cardinal theory."

"Under present conditions we have the strange anomaly of teachers being judged not on their ability to teach, but on their research output, and investigators being forced to devote valuable time to teaching that might be given to advancing the frontiers of knowledge. As a result men who might be good teachers if they were encouraged by the hope of future advancement are drifting about in laboratories with a couple of test tubes in their hands making themselves useless in a most arduous and time-consuming way, while men ho might be good investigators are wearing out their patience and their students in a vain effort to expound and to inspire large classes. I repeat, that while research in the broad sense of the term is a necessity for every teacher, and while every investigator must transmit what he has discovered, the criterion of the teacher should be ability to teach, and of the investigator, ability to investigate, and neither should look down upon the other so long as he is doing his job well. As it is, the good teacher, looked down upon by his colleagues because he is not producing each year a certain amount of scholarly pap, is frequently made so miserable that he gets out of academic life. That, so long as the largest task of an American university is to teach undergraduate students--and whatever it should be that is what is--is a distinct loss from every point of view."

"This State and this University have before them a magnificent task. We stand today ready for growth, physical, mental, and spiritual. Our minds are mobile, the product of restlessness, the longing for the change of the Forty-niners. In the westward march of civilization the ultra conservatives have stayed behind. This is a young country of far-away skies, high, distant mountains, and deep, fruitful valleys. With vision clear we should stand guard and point the way for business of higher standards, for even-handed justice, for unstinted service, for the life more abundant. In that great work it is the Universitys opportunity to guide, to direct, and to lead. No responsibility could be more serious; no opportunity more challenging. To avail itself of that opportunity and to discharge its share of that responsibility, the University of California resolutely sets its face, happy in the inspired wisdom of its founders, proud of the devotion of those who are its servants, and confident of the loyalty and support of its masters, the people. "